Dr. Toon: Youth Shall be Served
A second reason for the slow development of preschool animation was the bad name animation was getting during the late 1960's from psychologists and child development specialists, abetted by a cadre of censorious "watchdog" organizations. Although these forces were mainly concerned with the potential negative effects of the "chase and clobber" and superhero shows, innocuous cartoons were besmirched by association, and seemingly every cartoon series on the air needed the blessing of a psychologist or educational specialist. Although there may have been a market for preschool animation in the three decades between the 1960s and 1990s, production houses were probably leery of making shows for even younger audiences (Interesting sidebar: As I was writing this column, BBC News ran an article on February 14 that stated half of 2000 parents surveyed thought that fairy tales were too scary for preschoolers. Seems that things haven't changed much since the watchdog days of the Sixties, at least among parents).
A third reason? Demographics, particularly in the economic sphere. Preschoolers and toddlers might be delighted by colorful commercials, but were hardly influenced by the content. While the older, Saturday morning crowd could be swayed into influencing adults to purchase funky toys, breakfast cereals, and other marketable effluvium of childhood, the very young had only a dawning glimmer of recognition for these coveted products. They were, at best, Something Else That Came On The Screen until Something Else replaced them.
Thus, any televised pitches had to be aimed at adults, who all too often used the tube as a babysitter and rarely sat through shows that were ten developmental levels below them. This was the heyday of "passive learning" during the 1980s when it was widely (and mistakenly) believed that pushing a pregnant belly up against a set of speakers playing Mozart or foreign language tapes would give a fetal brain a head start in life, with little effort expended by the parent. Thus, many of the commercials went unseen by adults or were seen by children who could not logically comprehend them.
There is another, possibly more salient reason why it took so long for toddlers and preschoolers to get their slice of the rich animation pie. These shows had been very difficult to write. Deceptively difficult. The main cause is that the natures of adult and child fantasy are widely disparate, and are not as easily bridged as many might think.
One misconception of early childhood fantasy is that children do not differentiate well between fantasy and reality. At least one study conducted in 2004 by researchers from Emory University and U of Texas suggests that children make this distinction far better than formerly believed and can do so by the age of three. The truth instead appears to be: Children think in magical ways. Adults can do this too, but only by negotiating the barriers thrown up by experience, education, sexuality, logic, consequences, complicated decision-making, and advanced social interactions. As stated, these shows are very difficult to write. Unless, of course, children wrote them.